Curiosity filled her brown eyes. “Really?”

I nodded.

“You’re, what, a junior?”

“Yep.” I paused, unsure of how much I should say. “I ended up having to take a year off, which put me behind.”

She was quiet for a few moments “Why did you retake astronomy? Is it a part of your major?”

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“No. I just like the class and Professor Drage.” I turned off the flashlight “I’m studying recreation and sport. Would like to get into sport rehabilitation.”

“Oh. Did you . . .”

When she didn’t finish her sentence, I looked over and followed her gaze. On the bench, the two from our astronomy class looked like they were about to practice making babies right then and there.

“Now that is an interesting form of stargazing,” I said.

She watched them for a couple of more moments, her eyes wide like she was trying to figure out exactly what they were doing. Which was obvious. There was a lot of tongue involved.

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I poked her with my pen.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just that . . .” I had no idea how to say this. “You’re watching them like . . . you’ve never seen a couple do that before.”

“I am?”

I nodded. “So unless you were raised in a convent, I imagined you’ve been in a lap a time or two, right?”

“No, I haven’t!” She cringed, focusing over the cornstalks. “I mean, I haven’t been in a guy’s lap.”

A grin teased at my lips. “What about a girl’s lap?”

Her mouth dropped open. “What? No!”

I smiled broadly, picturing her in a girl’s lap and that wasn’t a bad image. Made even better when I pictured her in my lap, though. “I was joking, Avery.”

Her chin jutted out stubbornly. “I know, it’s just that . . .”

“What?” I poked her arm with the pen again. “You what?”

“I’ve never been in a relationship.”

Never? Never as in ever? No way.

Clutching her notebook, she glanced at me. “What? It’s not a big deal.”

I opened my mouth, said nothing. I blinked and then shook my head as I tipped my head back, staring at the sky. “You’ve never been in a relationship?”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

“That’s what no means.”

I had no idea what to say. “How old are you?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m nineteen.”

“And you haven’t been in a single relationship?”

“No. My parents . . . they were strict.” She swallowed. “I mean, really strict.”

“I can tell.” I tapped the pen on the notebook, beyond curious, like obsessively curious as to how someone as pretty as Avery made it this far without ever being in a relationship “So have you gone on a date or anything?”

A deep sigh emanated from her. “I thought we were supposed to be mapping stars?”

“We are.”

“No, we’re not. All I have is a scribbly line and you have nothing.”

“That scribbly line is between the Delta and Gamma.” I leaned over, connecting the dots. “Here is the Theta and this is the Alpha—brightest star. See, we are halfway done.”

She frowned, slowly shaking her head as she turned her gaze to the sky. While she was distracted, because I was done with the astronomy shit, I leaned in further, my shoulder pressing into hers as I finished the map, completing our homework assignment.

I turned my head. “Now we’re done mapping stars . . .” Our faces were inches apart, and I heard the soft inhale of breath. She didn’t move away, and my smile went up a notch. “See? That wasn’t hard.”

Avery’s gaze dropped, and I knew she wasn’t paying a damn bit of attention to what was coming out of my mouth even though she was staring at it. Not that I was complaining. She could stare at my mouth all she wanted.

Those thick lashes swept up and our gazes locked once more. A sudden, tangible pull spread out between us. Neither of us moved, and I wanted to. I wanted to pull her into my arms. Where the whole slowing down things went to I had no idea. She moved, visibly uncomfortable, and the good, decent part of me said to look away, to crack a joke and make her feel better, but I couldn’t resist the lure of her eyes. In the darkness, they were like black pools.

I forced myself to say something. “You think you learned anything about the stars?”

There was no response, which was probably a good thing, because that was lame. So I went to what I really wanted to know. “Have you ever been on a date?”

Still no response.

My lips curved up. “Are you listening to me?”

Shortcake blinked like she was coming out of a daze. “Huh? Yes! Yes. Totally.”

There was no mistaking she was feeling what I was feeling. Not when she had stared at me that long. “Yeah . . . so, you haven’t been on a date?”

“What?”

I chuckled. “You really haven’t been listening to me at all. You’ve been too busy staring at me.”

“I have not!”

“Yes, you were.” I nudged her shoulder.

The expression she made was like she tasted something bad. “You are so beyond the acceptable level of arrogance.”

“Arrogant? I’m just stating the truth.” I tossed my notebook aside and leaned back on my arms, watching her. I couldn’t resist teasing her. It was like finding a new hobby. “There’s nothing wrong with staring at me. I like it.”

She gaped at me. “I wasn’t staring at you. Not really. I sort of . . . dazed out. That’s how thrilling talking to you is.”

“Everything about me is thrilling.”

“About as thrilling as watching your tortoise cross a road.”

“Uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.”

“Keep calling me sweetheart and you’re going to be limping.”

Ah, I liked that. “Oh, listen to you.”

“Whatever.”

“We should do it.”

Her lips puckered. “Do what? Go home? I’m all about going home, like right now.”

I smiled. “Go on a date.”

Six

Shortcake stared at me like I’d just suggested that we strip naked and run through the cornstalks. She snapped her notebook closed and grabbed her bag. “I’m not sure I’m following this conversation.”

“It’s really not that complicated.” I laughed at her hateful look. “We should go out on a date.”

She stared at me a moment and then shoved her notebook into the bag with lethal force. “I don’t understand.”

Why wasn’t I surprised that she didn’t understand? Lying back, I stretched my arms above my head, feeling the bones pop. I watched her gaze sweep down the length of me, getting hung up on the skin exposed between my shirt and belt.

My smile spread. “Typically going on a date is when two people go out for the evening or sometimes during the day. Really, it can be any time of the day or night. It usually involves dinner. Sometimes a movie or a walk in the park. Though, I don’t do walks in the park. Maybe on a beach, but since there aren’t any—”

“I know what a date is.” She jumped to her feet, eyes like chips of black ice in the darkness.

“You said you didn’t understand. So I’m explaining what a date means.”

Her lips twitched as she crossed her arms. “That’s not the part I don’t understand and you know that.”

“I was just making sure we were on the same page.”

“We’re not.”

Grinning shamelessly, I lowered my arms, but didn’t tug down my shirt. “So now that we both know what a date entails, we should go out on one.”

“Uh . . .”

I laughed as I sat up. The confusion on her face was adorable in a weird way. “That’s not really a response, Avery.”

“I . . .” Shaking her head, she took a step back. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Where in the hell did Shortcake get that idea? “A girlfriend? No.”

“Then who was that brunette stumbling out of your apartment Wednesday night?” she demanded.

As her words sunk in, I smiled from ear to fucking ear. “Have you been watching me, Avery?”

“No. No!” Her face blanched. “What? I wasn’t watching you. I do have a life.”

I arched a brow. “Then how do you know about Stephanie?”

Shortcake shifted her weight. “That’s her name?”

“Well, yes, she has a name and no, she’s not my girlfriend. And she wasn’t stumbling. Maybe shuffling.”

She rolled her eyes.

“So how did you see her if you weren’t watching me?” I crossed my ankles. “And I don’t mind the idea of you watching me. Remember, I like that.”

Her chest rose in a deep breath, and I could tell her patience was running thin. “I wasn’t watching you. I couldn’t sleep and I was staring out my living-room window. I just happened to see you walking her out to her car.”

I didn’t believe her. Hell to the no. Who just happens to be staring out the window at that time of night? As much as I’d love to tease her, it looked like she was about to punt kick my head, but I was a gambling sort of man. “Well, that makes sense. Not nearly as entertaining as you standing by your window hoping to catch a glimpse of me.”

She stared at me.

I winked. “Steph’s not my girlfriend by the way. We aren’t like that.”

Her hand went to the bracelet on her left wrist. “I’m not like that.”

“Like what?”

Turning her stare to the many stars, she raised her hands. “I’m not like her.”

“Do you know her?”

“I don’t just hook up with guys for fun, okay? I don’t see anything wrong with it. Totally not judging here, but that’s not me. So I’m not interested. Sorry.”

“Wait a sec. I’m confused. You’re not judging her, but you’ve made the assumption that she’s into random hookups? That she’s my fuck buddy? Isn’t that kind of making a rash judgment based on assumptions?”

Her forehead wrinkled. “You’re right. I don’t know if that’s what you guys are about. Maybe you’re just childhood buddies or something.”

“We’re not.” I grinned. “We hook up every once in a while.”

Shortcake’s jaw hit the ground. “I was right! Then why did you accuse me of being judgmental?”

“I was just pointing it out.” I couldn’t stop teasing her. The array of emotions that crossed her face was fascinating to me. “And for the record, we didn’t hook up Wednesday night. Not for the lack of trying on her part, but I wasn’t feeling it.”

“Whatever. This is a stupid conversation.”

“I like this conversation.”

She reached for the bag, but I was faster, grabbing her bag as I stood. A deep, annoyed sigh radiated from her. “Give it to me.”

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